Collaboration in the digital humanities manifests itself not just among those involved in creating digital scholarship but also with the audience. Through comments and feedback sections, social networks, and other mediums, historians are able to engage with their audience on an unprecedented level. Digital humanists continue to navigate these complicated relationships in every digital project they create. Unlike the strict rules that exist regarding publication in the academy, I am not convinced that the same stringent rules will ever apply to digital works because of the vast and very diverse nature of digital scholarship. It is important to separate “traditional” work from the digital. As William G. Thomas states, “We historians might have to cast aside our illusions of permanence and our penchant for the “cardigan.” If we experiment, however, we might discover that the openness of the digital medium is what allows us both to create vibrant new scholarship and to speak to a rising generation of students.” This is demonstrated in the articles included in the most recent Journal of the Digital Humanities, which focused on “Expanding Communities of Practice.” As with the authors of “The Difference Slavery Made,” the authors of these articles balanced “critical theory, the needs of the projects’ constituents, and the mixed opportunities and constraints presented by a respective technology” in creating digital projects. The creators of “The Difference Slavery Made” also detailed their struggle with the imposition of traditional historical practices on their “digital article.” I chose to highlight two of the articles from this issue, given their relevance to this week’s readings.
In the first article titled “Changing Medium, Transforming Composition” by Trey Conatser, he discussed the importance of the visibility of the web in creating digital scholarship. This is an idea we have discussed in our class, particularly with the article, “Hermenuetics of Data and Historical Writing.” The digital world allows for greater collaboration between “the supply” and “the demand” as it was directed in Dan Cohen’s article, “The Social Contract of Digital Publishing.” Conatser found that by making the methods behind their work visible to others, his students (who were learning XML) were “empowered to take command of their work.” The students also came to realize that digital scholarship is about both the argument and the form, another idea that was discussed in creating “The Difference Slavery Made” as well as in several of the other articles we’ve read in class.
In another article titled, “Media NOLA: A Digital Humanities Project to Tell Stories of Cultural Production in New Orleans,” Vicki Mayer and Mike Griffith detail the experience of creating a website showing the many contributions in the creation of New Orleans culture. This work is mostly done through Tulane University. Mayer and Griffith discuss at great length the collaboration between students and faculty of different disciplines, cultural institutions in New Orleans, as well as using social media to get feedback from users. They also learned the importance of aesthetics in creating a web platform once again showing how, as with “The Difference Slavery Made, digital projects require the combination both argument and form throughout the planning process, a factor that separates them from traditional historical methods. The other articles in this issue all worked to create the same general idea, that greater collaboration in the digital humanities between both authors and audience, as well as between scholars from interdisciplinary fields help the field to grow and advance in unique and exciting ways.